Sith Esa | Sunday Observer
Speaking to the hearts of the visually impaired

Sith Esa

Braille printing machines
Braille printing machines

The lives of the visually impaired, a community that should not be ignored, has not seen much change through decades of development. It has taken more than a century since the Braille machine was introduced to the country, to publish and distribute the first ever magazine for the visually impaired community, the Sunday Observer finds out.

Famous American author and activist Helen Keller is considered to be the first visually and hearing impaired person to obtain a bachelor of arts degree and in the early 20th century. In the latter part of the century Sri Lanka had a small number of visually impaired graduates passing out, about two to three per year. Currently there are about 90 undergraduates in all state universities with a graduated community of about 350.

Evn though the number shows an increase, is that the best we can do as a country?

President of the Sri Lanka Council of Vision Impared Graduates (SLCVIG), Sugath Wasantha De Silva explained about the much needed attention to the sphere of education of visually impaired persons while sharing information about their new Braille magazine, Sith Esa.

“Education is the only way for us to be armed with knowledge, but that journey is not an easy one,” Silva said, discussing difficulties they face in accessing updated knowledge.

“Braille is the principle communication method of the visually impaired. It was introduced to Sri Lanka in 1912. However, we have not been able to get its maximum use due to lack of attention, he said. Even the majority of the published books in Braille are only school text books.

Compared to the technological advances the world has seen over time, the visually impaired community hasn’t experienced much changes in their lives. “May be no one wants to spend on developing technology to ease our lives,” Silva lamented.

According to the 2011 census, there are 458,000 visually impaired citizens in our country, a large community a government or any other authority cannot simply put away.

Especially when the international community has set up sustainable development goals for the entire planet and ‘inclusiveness’ is one key requirement to determine the development of a country in the new millennium.

“There were more than 150 novels published in 2008. But how many of it was published in Braille? That is the bitter truth,” Silva said.

Undoubtedly ‘information’ is the true capital or the wealth of human society. This wealth of knowledge should be passed on to every human being, irrespective of their special needs.

“Right To Information is often hailed as a progressive step in Lankan society. Yes, of course it is. But the fair flow of information without discrimination is also vital,” Silva stressed. “Having human rights in law books will not do justice. There should be a mechanism to implement them in the reality,” he said.

While many of us including the majority who do not lack in anything, demand many things from the government and try to depend on such giveaways, SLCVIG recently displayed a remarkable gesture by commencing a Braille magazine, a long-awaited need for its members.

The Embassy of Japan in Sri Lanka has supported SLCVIG in buying three Braille machines to print the magazines and also a few other techno advanced products.

The magazine compiled in both Sinhala and Tamil languages are now distributed to 50 selected public libraries. “We want to see a culture where a visually Impaired person walks into a public library and reads this magazine. So our objective goes beyond someone just reading the magazine. We want everyone to feel the importance of inclusiveness in society,” Silva explained.

Sith Esa with 200 Braille pages contains articles on vital topics such as health, education, sports, arts, culture and recipes. Even though the magazines we see in the market come with photographs and in many colours, SLCVIG’s Sith Esa has mundane appeal - it is just blank paper with embossed dots.

“The project has cost around Rs 17.5 million. We would like to make this an opportunity to pay our gratitude to the people of Japan for funding us to buy our Braille machines,” Silva said.